Wedding Reception Planning Guide

bride and groom dancing to wedding reception music

The Ultimate Wedding Reception Planning Guide

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Wedding Reception Planning Tips

1. Be present.

Your guests have gathered to celebrate your wedding day with you. Visit with your guests before dancing begins, so they aren’t waiting for a moment to share their well wishes. When you are ready to party, so are they.

2. Make the reception room the place to be.

If you are having a dessert bar, photo booth, slideshow, or other entertainment, have it placed in the reception room. Anything that pulls their attention from the party room will be a party distraction rather than a party enhancement.

3. Dance, dance, dance.

Your guests take their cue from you and the music selections. If you want your guests to have a great time dancing, be sure that you do too!

4. Mind the volume.

Hire a great wedding DJ who is experienced and focused on creating a great party atmosphere – not blasting your guest’s eardrums. It’s a good idea to move tables and chairs away from speakers and seat older guests further from the sound equipment. No one wants to be overwhelmed by your wedding music.

5. Consider your seating arrangements.

Take time to carefully plan your seating arrangement, placing guests at tables with others they know. They don’t have to be fast friends, just acquaintances or people with some connection. Seat out-of-town guests with people who have similar interests. You can turn place cards into conversation starters by having them match another guest or even have trivia questions about the bride and groom printed on the cards.

6. Respect guests’ time.

While everyone loves to see the bride and groom share a special dance, your guests are also looking forward to dancing themselves. Start the dancing at your wedding reception with the traditional dances and then ask your guests to join you. If they spend too much time waiting for their turn to dance, guests become frustrated.

7. Play your favorite reception songs.

Playing a group favorite that’s easy to sing along and dance to can be a fun way to use your wedding music to involve your guests and their requests. Communicate with your wedding DJ about any must-play or do-not-play songs.

8. Allow group dances.

Group dances allow shy guests to hide among the crowd and can instantly pack your dance floor. You may not personally be a big fan of “The Hustle”, but many of your guests likely are. Play a variety of wedding reception music, something for all guests.

9. Give speeches and toasts before dinner.

You want your guest’s total attention during these special moments. The best way to ensure this is by giving all speeches and toasts back-to-back, and immediately before dinner. Traditionally, if the father of the bride is going to speak, he goes first, followed by other parents. Next, the Best Man gives his toast, followed by the Maid/Matron of Honor. If you, as bride and groom, plan on speaking, you’re next. Grace is said last. There is no ‘rule’ as to how many people (or who) should speak. However, if you have more than three speeches or toasts, ask each ‘presenter’ to keep it under two minutes.

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Wedding Reception Planning: 10 Mistakes To Avoid

wedding reception planning

1. Not prioritizing your budget on what’s important to YOU!

The banquet is over, and now the party begins. When planning a wedding reception, it is important to remember the majority of your reception time will be spent listening to music and dancing, so it makes sense to allocate a proportionate amount of your budget to the vendor responsible for your entertainment. Whether it’s a band or a DJ, the key idea here is QUALITY.

2. Not communicating with your vendors.

Have a thorough conversation with all of your vendors, and let them know EXACTLY what you expect. Don’t assume that, because they are professionals with years of experience, they automatically know what you want. Each bride’s vision is different. Vendors want to avoid disappointing you, so share the details of your dream with them from the beginning.

3. Not communicating your needs and expectations with your bridal party.

Let each person in your bridal party know, before your wedding day, where they are supposed to be and when. Important moments at your reception can’t be rehearsed, so prepare a timetable for your bridal party that includes the Grand Entrance, speeches and toasts, bridal dances, and any planned photo opportunities. They will be grateful to your organization.

4. Waiting until the last minute.

Finish everything on your checklist at least two days before your wedding. You don’t want to be scribbling place cards at 2 a.m. on your wedding day. Give yourself and your groom a task-free day or two before the wedding to relax and rejuvenate.

5. Having too much to drink early in the day or the night before.

Not only is it a good idea to avoid alcohol until the final party hours, but it’s best to stay hydrated by drinking water or other non-alcoholic beverages. If you can’t resist a good nip, be sure to eat something.

6. Spending too much time taking pictures.

There are photographs of special moments you MUST have, pictures of spontaneous moments that are FUN to have, and staged photos that become a nuisance. Don’t be afraid to say NO to your photographer when you’ve had enough.

7. Getting stressed or overwhelmed at your wedding reception.

Planning a wedding reception is done, now it’s time to enjoy it! Eat! Talk! Dance! Have Fun! Keep things simple. After you’ve greeted your guests, let them find you if they wish to visit.

8. Losing your perspective.

Keep your mind on what the day is about, and on the things and people that are important to you. Don’t get bogged down in so many details that you forget to have FUN! If something goes wrong, try your best to take deep breaths and think about the big picture. Don’t let the little things that might go wrong ruin your night. Above all, keep your sense of humor!

9. Not planning an exit strategy.

When planning a wedding reception, assign end-of-the-night tasks to others you trust, so you can leave unburdened. Final duties might include gathering gifts and transporting them “home”, paying the hall, and removing decorations — including flowers, centerpieces and other wedding notions.

10. Immediately leave on your honeymoon.

Try not to plan a 6 a.m. departure the day after your wedding. Give yourselves a day to recuperate and get your things together. Better yet, go back to work for a week before leaving on your honeymoon.

11 Common Wedding Reception Guest Complaints

Wedding Reception

1. The wedding music was TOO LOUD.

Hire a great wedding DJ who is experienced and focused on creating a fantastic overall experience for you and your guests. Other suggestions to avoid this common complaint: Move tables and chairs away from speakers and seat older guests further from the sound equipment.

2. The DJ was obnoxious or played lousy music.

Find the best wedding DJ available using recommendations from other brides and the advice of wedding industry professionals.

3. Speeches were TOO LONG and we couldn’t decipher the words.

Keep speeches under five minutes. Ideally, they should last between two and five minutes. A great DJ will spend a few moments with each person making a toast or speech, teaching him or her how to correctly operate and speak into the microphone. He will also use a high-quality microphone!

4. We didn’t know anyone at our table.

Take the time to carefully plan your seating arrangement, placing guests at tables with others they know. They don’t have to be fast friends, just acquaintances or people with some kind of connection. Try to seat out-of-town guests, who aren’t likely to know anyone, with others having similar interests.

5. I resented paying a dollar to dance with the bride.

Unless it’s a long-standing family tradition, and you will offend someone if you break the ritual, the dollar dance is best forgotten.

6. We stood forever in the receiving line.

The bride and groom, and their parents are the only required greeters. Better yet, couples should instead consider visiting individual tables during or immediately following dinner. (See #10 below)

7. We had too much time to “kill” between the ceremony and reception.

Out-of-town guests are often at a loss for ways to fill the time between a two o’clock wedding and a six o’clock reception. Try to keep the downtime to a minimum. When it isn’t possible to hold the events within an hour or so of each other, ask the hall if it will open its doors early for your visiting guests (and ask them if there’s a charge). Other options include asking relatives or close friends to invite them to their home for a light snack or arranging a hospitality suite for them at their hotel.

8. The centerpiece was so large that I couldn’t see or talk to guests seated across the table.

Smaller, shorter arrangements are best. Your centerpiece shouldn’t be the center of attention (or the main topic of conversation) at the table.

9. I was offended that I had to pay for drinks.

Open bars are the accepted norm. If your budget is tight, offer wine and beer only — or limit drink choices to “call” brands. You can also close the bar during the dinner hour to save on costs.

10. The bride and groom didn’t stop by to say hello.

Make the rounds of guest tables at your reception, but don’t spend too much time at each. A quick greeting, thank you or compliment will suffice.

11. I was never thanked for my gift!

Share this task with your husband. Divide your list, write your thank you notes at the same time, and make a pact to finish a certain number every night until they are finished. When the last note is FINALLY written, reward yourselves with a special bottle of wine or dinner out. It is customary to mail thank-you notes within three months.

Sample Wedding Reception Timeline

6:00 – 7:00pm

  • Guests arrive.
  • Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served.
  • DJ plays light music.

7:00 – 7:15pm

  • Guests are seated. Bridal Party is introduced into the room.
  • Bride and Groom enjoy their Grand Entrance.
  • Cake is cut.
  • Bridal party is seated at head table.

7:15 – 7:30pm

  • Toasts are made.
  • Grace is said.

7:30 – 8:40pm

  • Dinner is served.

8:40 – 8:59pm

  • Dinner is cleared while Bride & Groom pose for photos and visit with guests.
  • Guests are free to mingle, grab drinks, etc.
  • DJ gathers bridal party for the special dances.

9:00 – 9:15pm

Bridal dances.

9:15 – 9:45pm


9:45 – 10:00pm

  • Bouquet & garter toss (OPTIONAL)
  • Anniversary Dance (OPTIONAL)

10:00pm – 12:00am


5 Wedding Reception Time Savers

Maid of Honor Giving Wedding Reception Toast

You may be wondering how you are going to find time to fit everything in at your wedding reception. When you follow these six suggestions, it will be easy, and stress-free and you’ll be able to enjoy your wedding day. The secret isn’t finding more time; it’s spending more time doing fun things: eating, drinking, laughing, and dancing.

1. Limit the number of staged group photos.

Too many group pictures of the bridal party and families taken before, during, and/or after dinner can seriously disrupt the timing of events. Remember, you’re the boss. Feel free to say NO to your photographer, if you’re running behind schedule and the situation demands it. Better yet, communicate your wishes to him BEFORE your wedding day. Like your DJ, your photographer needs your “must have” list, your “wish list” and your “do not” photograph list well in advance of the date.

2. Limit your receiving line.

If you must have a receiving line, include only the bride & groom and their parents as greeters. Guests don’t need to greet your bridesmaids and groomsmen; it will slow the line and annoy your guests.

3. Keep moving.

Keep moving when greeting guests from table to table. This is a fantastic way to greet your guests, but don’t linger too long at each table. Offer only brief exchanges & thank you’s, and keep moving around the room.

4. Share the timeline.

Get your bridal party on the “same page,” (parents, too). Before your wedding day, give members of the bridal party and your parents a timeline of reception events that clearly explains where they need to be and when. This will save you tons of aggravation with friends and relatives and they will appreciate knowing ahead of time what is expected of them.

5. Consider a buffet.

Buffets are always faster than plated meals. A double-sided buffet with two service lines represents the fastest food option for weddings. Similarly, consider having a smaller wedding cake for cutting purposes. Have a grab-and-go station for desserts for guests to grab throughout the evening.

Kid-Friendly Wedding Receptions

Among all the decisions you already have to make, there is one decision that should be addressed early on – will you have kids at your wedding? Whether or not to have kids at your wedding is entirely up to you and your fiance.

If you choose to have kids at your wedding, taking a few extra steps in planning can help the entire night run more smoothly. From kid-friendly tables to an overflowing dessert bar, the goal is to make the kids feel comfortable, while also keeping them busy. The kids and their parents will greatly appreciate the extra thought you’ve put into planning. We’ve gathered our top five ways for creating a kid-friendly wedding reception.

Wedding Reception Planning Kid Friendly tables

Ideas for a Kid-Friendly Wedding Reception

“Kid” Table. 

Conversation at the adult table during long dinner service can get pretty boring for a nine-year-old. When creating your seating arrangement, consider putting older children at a table in the middle of their parents. They’ll have a fun time interacting with kids their age while mom and dad talk to adults.This is a must for a kid-friendly wedding reception!


Any family-friendly restaurant knows that occupied children make for more enjoyable dining. Consider presenting your younger guests with coloring books and crayons as a guest favor. Mom and Dad will thank you for your thoughtfulness!

Finger Food.

While the adults will appreciate filet for dinner, children would be just as happy with chicken fingers. See if your caterer has kid-friendly options – this could also be budget-friendly.

Dessert Bar. 

A dessert bar can make anyone smile! Consider having a kid-friendly dessert bar. Cupcakes, cookies, s’mores, or candy are great ideas for all ages.

Signature “Kid” Drinks. 

Remember when you thought a “Shirley temple” was a special treat? Ask your venue to offer kid-friendly drinks, but be sure they are presented in a different glass to avoid confusion!

5 Alternatives to Clinking Glasses at Your Wedding Reception

We’ve all done it before at wedding receptions and now that you’re getting married you get to experience the clinking glasses tradition! Sure, it can get on your nerves when all you want to do is enjoy the little time you have to eat the expensive dinner you’re paying for, but it’s almost a right of passage now that you’re newlyweds!

Is it a hard no on clinking glasses at your wedding? Keep in mind when wedding reception planning there are other ways guests can entice kisses from the couple. Each has its own charm and possible drawbacks. None of these work for everyone – but it’s fun so pick one that appeals to you or create your own.

Bride and Groom During Wedding Reception Toast

1. Ring Bells Instead of Clinking Glasses

Place a hand-held bell on each dining table during the wedding reception. Choose a collection of bells that sound pleasing, as you’ll be listening to them repeatedly through the night (Instead of clinking glasses). While you can probably find brass bells at any discount store, those made of glass or silver add a touch of elegance. Tie a colorful ribbon to each.

2. Sing Love Songs

Guests at each table stand up and sing love songs, as they have for years, to prompt the happy couple to kiss. This carries on a lovely tradition but guests are occasionally reluctant.

3. Kiss “this” Way

A guest approaches the head table with his or her significant other, and they demonstrate the way they want the newlyweds to kiss. Be prepared for some outrageous suggestions.

4. Putt for a kiss.

Great for golf enthusiasts and wedding reception fun! Place a small putting green in front of the head table or on the dance floor. If a guest gets a hole-in-one, then the couple must kiss. But if you don’t love hitting the green, clinging glasses may be a better option.

5. Kiss to a song.

Have your maid of honor or best man pick a song, share it with your wedding DJ and every time your wedding DJ plays that song throughout the night – you guessed it – you have to kiss! It’s kind of like musical chairs, you never know when the DJ will hit play so be ready to smooch at any time!

Wedding Reception Planning: Your Exit Strategy

wedding reception exit

You’ve had a beautiful ceremony, your dance floor was packed, the food was yummy and you have amazing wedding photos you can’t wait to see, but eventually your wedding reception has to come to an end. Here are a few tips that will allow you to enjoy your party a little longer by leaving the end-of-the-night activities to someone else, that way you do not need to worry about your wedding reception exit. Who knew you had to think about that? Too many couples make the mistake of forgetting to hand these tasks off to a trusting friend.


This is a job that you can give to your most trusted friend. After the reception, someone should be tasked with collecting the boxes, bags, and envelope holders. Decide in advance who this person will be and where they will place the items. Often the gifts are placed in the couple’s hotel room if at the same venue or given to the parents of the couple. This is particularly important to decide if you are departing in the morning for your honeymoon. For an exciting wedding reception exit, this will need to be thought of beforehand!


If you have rented any items for your decorations, you may need someone to not only collect them at the end of the evening but also to return them to the vendor. Some companies will pick up the rental items, but there may be a fee for doing so.

Floral arrangements may be given to guests as they part, donated to a hospital or nursing home or disposed of by the venue. Be sure to check with the venue to see what items can be left on-site after the evening.

Fees & Gratuities

Typically, most fees are paid before the wedding day, but you may have some due that evening. One of the best man’s duties is to handle any fees or gratuities for the couple (including the DJ!). Prepare and label envelopes in advance so he can handle those tasks for you. Do not keep the couple there any longer and let them continue with their wedding reception exit as planned!

Mike Staff Productions Guarantee

The Mike Staff Productions Guarantee

At Mike Staff Productions, we trust that you’ll choose the perfect person to work with because you know what you want on your wedding day!  There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all wedding DJ, photographer or videographer – we get that, that’s why we invite you to be a part of the planning process.

Let’s bring your wedding vision to life!


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